Opening a new tire store, two of my friends decided free food was the ticket to a grand opening splash and that led them to giving me a call.
One of a group of men who volunteered to cook at charitable and civic events I had access to a mobile grill. Knowing I loved to cook and was up to a challenge, my two buddies convinced me to borrow the cooker and prepare free Bar-B-Que for their opening.
Mounted on a four-wheel trailer, the cooker was ten foot long by four foot wide, with sloping sides, rising up from a rectangular firebox. Inside was an expanded metal grill welded to steel channels; above the grill running the length of the cooker were two steel rods, on which hooks containing meat could be hung. Overall it was a massive contraption that was difficult to move and set up.
I had solicited one of my employees—a hard-boiled roofer with a penchant for bourbon—to help with setting up the cooker and cooking. By 8:00 a.m. we had 80 pounds of sirloin on the grill and I suspect my helper had his first nip of Kentucky “Nectar;” three hours later we were ready to begin serving.
Our plan was to cut the cooked sirloin roasts into thin slices, which we would store in large foil covered metal trays. At the 11:00 a.m. announced serving time, there were at least 50 people in line waiting for their free sandwich; by 11:15 the line had grown to over 100 people and as people looked for parking spaces, traffic on the highway in front of the store was at a dead stop. We realized that slicing the beef with a knife was too slow of a process so I loaded 60 pounds of cooked meat in my truck to take to the butcher to slice.
When I arrived back at the grand opening with ground—even for the butcher slicing was too slow—smoked sirloin, there were policemen directing traffic, the line for free food was around the block and my bourbon-soaked assistant was passed out on the front seat of his truck. At one time, as I spooned cook sirloin on a bun, I recognized the person in front of me and was embarrassed that I didn’t remember his, his wife or their three kids names: embarrassed until I realized the only reason I recognized them was it was the third time I had served them.
At the end of the afternoon we were worn out. We had served over 400 people; my friends had not sold one tire; my erstwhile assistant was still sleeping off a load of bourbon and I was stuck with cleaning up and returning the cooker. Not the results we expected but a valuable lesson: a free lunch can attract attention and freeloaders but doesn’t guarantee a relationship.
Whether personal or business, relationships are built upon trust. A give away, such as a free lunch, can open the door but it’s what takes place afterwards that seals the deal. A kiss good night or a sales order is not the result of a well-cooked meal. What establishes the link between people is the trust that what is promised will happen.
“A free lunch is only found in mousetraps.” – John Capozzi